The UFT and the principals union are sounding the alarm that the city has no plan to deal with the looming staffing shortage certain to be triggered by the vaccine mandate.
The DOE set a deadline of midnight on Monday, Sept. 27, for school staff to have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. Excoriating the city for the lack of planning, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Mark Cannizzaro said they feared a significant number of schools would face serious shortages when only vaccinated staff reported to work on Sept. 28.
“We are very concerned about what is going to happen on Tuesday morning,” said Mulgrew at a joint virtual press conference on Sept. 24. “We’re asking City Hall to wake up and start making decisions based on the ramifications of the children of New York City and not your own political purposes.”
Mulgrew said the UFT supports the CSA’s call for a delay in the implementation of the mandate until the city can create a contingency plan.
Thousands of school employees — from teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, custodians, school safety officers and others — might not be eligible to return to schools on Sept. 28.
Cannizzaro predicted that some large high schools could lose more than 100 staff, including teachers with specialized expertise who would be difficult to replace, and some large middle schools could lose 50 to 70 staff members.
Principals have access to a DOE portal that shows them their own school’s staff vaccination numbers at the moment, but the city has refused to share its citywide data with the unions or share a list of the schools that will be hit hardest.
Both union leaders questioned why the city set a deadline of a Monday at midnight to submit proof of vaccination, leaving no time for schools to plan for the following day of school.
Mulgrew said the mayor has said “he’s hopeful and comfortable” that redeploying some staff as well as calling in substitutes will be enough to create a safe and effective learning environment for students.
“I don’t feel ‘hopeful and comfortable’ is enough,” Mulgrew said. “Hopeful and comfortable is not a plan” to keep students sufficiently distanced, supervised and safe.
Cannizzaro also disputed the mayor’s contention that there are thousands of substitutes ready to step in to fill the gap. “Subs will be very hard to come by because everyone is looking for substitutes right now,” he said.
Both the UFT and CSA have encouraged their members to get vaccinated. Cannizzaro said 95% of school administrators had been vaccinated, while Mulgrew estimated more than 90% of UFT members in schools had been. The percentages of other school workers who are vaccinated may not be nearly as high, they said. Mulgrew noted that the president of Teamsters Local 237, the union representing school safety agents, told him that only 50% of his members had been vaccinated.
Mulgrew warned that the city’s lack of planning could lead to some disturbing scenarios on Tuesday.
“Let’s take a school of 1,600 students, for example,” Mulgrew said. “It may only have one safety officer and two cafeteria workers there and be missing five teachers. That school might have to put three classes in the auditorium with one teacher and one aide, and there’s no lunch to be served. That’s an example of a moderate case we might be facing on Tuesday. Now times that by hundreds of schools.”
The UFT is asking its chapter leaders to gather information about what types of positions their schools may need filled to prepare for Tuesday in the absence of a DOE plan.